Select language, opens an overlay


Inventor of the Electrical Age

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America's first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft. Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla's private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an "idealist" inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion. This major biography sheds new light on Tesla's visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs"-- Provided by publisher.
"This is a biography of one of the major 20th-century scientists, Nikola Tesla. It is interdisciplinary, containing accounts of U.S. manufacturing in the early 1900s and other contemporary cultural materials"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Princeton, New Jersey : Princeton University Press, [2013]
ISBN: 9780691057767
Call Number: 621.3092 T337ca 2013
Characteristics: xiii, 500 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

An exhaustive look at the life of the enigmatic scientist, dramatic showman, and debonair lover of pigeons who invented many applications of alternating current power. Delves deeply into the workings of his inventions.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 22, 2019

Nikola Tesla seems to be an inventor in the same class as Buckminster Fuller. This 420-page biography emphasizes the technology that Tesla devised without attempting to explain, in simple terms, the underlying science and utility. The author is more effective in presenting the personal characteristics and interpersonal relationships of Tesla that contributed to his successes and failures. This biography encompasses a period in world technological transformation that was rapid and unsettling. The author uses the terms "ideal" and "illusion" to describe Tesla's "concept" and "application" of inventions. I found the author's terminology confusing.

⚡️Tesla was a seat-of-the-pants inventor, with little scientific understanding of what he was doing. So, he had a lot of visionary ideas, like death rays and broadcasting power, but no way to tell whether they were feasible or not, and no solid ideas to implement them. These science fiction ideas still circulate among wishful thinkers, who are convinced that Tesla was just on the verge of completing some great success that would revolutionize science and industry. Dream on!

Dec 24, 2014

sometimes this book got a bit boring with a lot of details describing the inventions. I was more interested in the personal life of NT.

Aug 08, 2013

[Update: A connection between President Donald Trump and Nikola Tesla? Absurd you say? After the death of Tesla, the US gov't rushed in and confiscated all his personal papers, which they then handed over to a professor of engineering with MIT, named John G. Trump, uncle of the future president of the USA! Wonder if those still classified papers included his Death Ray??? Remember the Tunguska Event?]
A most excellent bio on Nikola Tesla, with important trivia (but most assuredly not trivial) on Tesla's youth and background. Together, this biography and Jill Jonnes' book, "Empires of Light" are the two best books on Tesla and the origins of the power grid. (Although, Ms. Jonnes' treatment of Tesla was far more to my liking! And she filled out important points in both his overall character, and daily living habits. What I found annoying about this biography was that Carlson, too often and in a subtle fashion, appears to be belittling Tesla, while not including factual history of people's dealings with him, such as Edison, Morgan and others. Ms. Jonnes' treatment was much more respectful and practical with regard to his techical abilities and genius.)


Add a Quote
Nov 22, 2019

“… by far Tesla’s most imaginative idea for a receiver was a hand-held device connected to a vertical wire on a short pole or even a lady’s [umbrella] so that it could pick up voice messages anywhere in the world. As Tesla promised in 1904, ‘An inexpensive receiver, not bigger than a watch, will enable him to listen anywhere, on land or sea, to a speech delivered, or music played in some other place, however, distant.’ Here is the opening years of the twentieth-century, we see Tesla conjuring up a vision of a device much like a transistor radio or cell phone, with the promise of providing instantaneous access to information anytime, anywhere. (p. 340)

Nov 22, 2019

“… the citizens of [the young Tesla’s home town of] Gospic … had organized a fire department with uniforms and a red-and-black pumping engine. To demonstrate the engine, the fire department paraded through the streets and down to the river. There, sixteen firemen began to furiously pump the engine’s handles … but no water came out of the hose. As he watched … Tesla admitted that ‘My knowledge of the mechanism was nil and I knew next to nothing of air pressure, but instinctively I felt for the suction hose in the river and found that it has collapsed.’ … Tesla waded into the water and eliminated the kink in the input hose. Immediately the fire engine began to work and water gushed from the hose … Grateful that he had saved the day, the firemen hoisted Nikola on their shoulders and celebrated him as a hero. … Tesla learned that solving technical problems could lead to recognition and approval.” (p. 26)


Add a Summary
Nov 22, 2019

This biography tries to strike a balance between celebrating and criticizing Nikola Tesla. He had a spectacular ascent (1884-94) followed by an equally dramatic descent (1895-1905). In the decades since his death, Tesla has enjoyed a curious legacy. On one hand, his is acknowledged by engineers for his contributions to alternating current (AC), and in 1956 the “Tesla” was adopted as the name for the unit of measure for the flux density of magnetic fields. On the other hand, thanks to the many exaggerated predictions he made about his inventions, Tesla has become a figure in popular culture. The task for a Tesla biographer is to piece together his life so that both the ascent and descent make sense. While previous biographies have focused largely on Tesla’s personality, this book seeks to take measure of both the man and his creative work. The author seeks to answer three basic questions: How did Tesla invent? How did his inventions work? And what happened as he introduced his inventions? The author seeks to reveal what we can learn from Tesla about the invention process and the role that innovation plays in the economy. Some readers may be disappointed that their favorite Tesla story is not here and that there may be more technical discussion than they would like. The book offers many black and white photographs and technical drawings; endnotes; and an index.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at MCL

To Top